When visiting Hearing Unlimited, you may be surprised by the various health conditions we discuss with you during your hearing tests. That’s because our practice doesn’t just treat hearing problems. Instead, we use the latest healthcare research to provide feedback on your hearing and the health risks your hearing may share a connection with.
We take this approach because many hearing issues share symptoms or risk factors with other health conditions. Last month, for example, we explored how your ear doctor can be a part of your heart health care routine. This month, we’re exploring a potentially more surprising link - hearing loss and kidney disease.
What is Kidney Disease?
26 million American adults have chronic kidney disease (CKD). Millions of others are currently at risk of developing this health issue. CKD causes damage to the kidneys over time, leading to eventual kidney failure. Symptoms tend to appear slowly, however. Without early detection, patients are at a higher risk of developing complications due to reduced kidney function. And since the kidneys are responsible for helping to filter waste out of our bodies, those complications can be messy - even dangerous.
CKD is often a result of conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure. However, at Hearing Unlimited, we’re most interested in the similarities between kidney disease and the ears. Because, believe it or not, they do share some things in common.
What’s The Connection?
If you asked a medical professional about the kidneys and the ears, they would tell you that “the kidneys share physiologic, ultrastructural and antigenic similarities with the stria vascularis of the cochlea.” Or, in plain English: a specific part of our ears shares functional and structural characteristics with our kidneys.
It almost sounds unreal - how could the ears share similarities with the kidneys? But research has confirmed that physiological mechanisms of fluid and electrolyte balance are present in both organs. This matters because it means that when a health issue affects the functionality of one (i.e. the kidneys or the ears), it’s likely to affect the other. So while hearing loss doesn’t cause CKD - or vice versa - patients with certain types of hearing loss are likely to experience problems with their kidneys (and vice versa).
Research at this time also confirms the correlation between these health issues. In one study, 54.4% of patients with moderate CKD had measurable hearing loss. That's much higher than the control group. In that group, less than 30% of people demonstrated measurable hearing loss.
What are Some Risk Factors To Watch For?
The most common shared risk factors for CKD and hearing loss include:
- Age (older patients are more at risk of these conditions)
- A diabetes diagnosis (which can impact both the ears and the kidneys)
- A hypertension (i.e. high blood pressure) diagnosis (which puts extra strain on the heart and kidneys)
- The use of certain medications with side effects known to impact the functionality of the ears and/or the kidneys
Additionally, a diagnosis of hearing loss and/or CKD - and the treatments used to address both - is likely to increase the chances of a patient developing the other condition.
What Does This Mean For You?
Understanding the nature of your hearing loss, if you have it, is extremely important. While meeting with your audiologist, it’s important to ask if you have any hearing issues that are linked to an increased risk of kidney problems.
Additionally, if you begin meeting with a nephrologist (i.e. kidney specialist), it’s important to ask for a referral to a hearing specialist for evaluation and/or rehabilitation (e.g., hearing aids). Patients should also avoid treatments with ototoxic medications (i.e. medications with ear-related side effects) to preserve their hearing ability whenever possible.
Finally, all patients looking to reduce their risk of kidney and hearing problems should engage in healthy habits and activities that will help to keep both systems healthy. Doing this will limit your exposure to the complications and medications associated with CKD and hearing. These healthy habits and activities include the following:
- Don’t smoke. Smoking can limit blood flow to all of your organs, increasing your risk of kidney and ear problems.
- Control your blood pressure. High blood pressure can weaken and/or harden the kidney and ears' blood vessels, impeding their functionality.
- Eat well. A healthy diet rich in vegetables and fruits, and low in saturated fats and added sugars, is well known to support healthy bodily functions all around.
- Exercise frequently. Exercising is the best way to help keep your heart healthy (and reduce your risk of high blood pressure and diabetes).
- Have your doctor test you for kidney and heart disease. In addition to living a healthy lifestyle, it’s important to screen for these health issues so that they can be addressed as early as possible should they develop.
Still have questions? Unsure about how your own hearing issues may affect your body and other organs? We’re here to help! Since 1949, Hearing Unlimited, Inc. has specialized in addressing the numerous, underappreciated issues associated with hearing loss. Contact us online or by phone today to schedule an appointment with us and take advantage of our services and resources!*We would like to thank HDI Impressions for providing us with the research and data cited throughout this month’s blog post. The information provided has the power to change lives, and we cannot thank HDI enough for their support and assistance!